We received this from Andrew Dingwall on 25th November 2013 for which we are very grateful indeed:
I attended Col. Richmond-Coggan's funeral at Hove last Friday. After the service I introduced myself to his son Martin, who very kindly invited me to the family reception. During the service, Martin gave an excellent tribute to his father. He sent me a copy of the tribute, which is attached. I thought you might like to include it on the website:
How do you sum up 101 years of Dad’s life? Born two years before the Great War; died two weeks ago! Easy, really!
A century of living creates many stories and, importantly for us all here, many memories. Some of you, from Hove, will only know him in his last decade – still larger than life, reverberating with his military bearing, delighted with his relationship with his beloved sister, Jackie, and grateful for all your friendship. There can’t be many people reaching and passing 100 who are still out to lunch 3 or 4 (or even 5) times a week; still driving well into their late 90’s. As I tell you the stories that we remember and with which we hold him dear, a number of traits link them: he had a lucky life, somewhat reckless when he was younger, determined and proud. And, yes, as I have heard a lot in the last two weeks, entertaining with a cheeky sense of fun, larger than life.
His driving provides my first story. At 96, David and I were both worried that he was an accident waiting to happen; we were convinced that his reactions were not what he thought. Hove road users were in real danger! After I had argued strongly with him one day, he called me: “Martin, I’ve been thinking about what you said about my reactions”. I thought: “thank God, he’s going to be sensible at last”. But no: “I remember when I used to go to the motoring show in Olympia, they had booths with simulated driving where you could measure your reaction speed. So I decided to find one locally and test myself. I googled ‘reaction times’ (remember this was a 96 year-old!). I couldn’t find a local booth, but I found a game on the internet and played it.” He delighted in telling me that he came in the top quartile of all players and, when I tried it myself, his time was better than mine!
On the subject of the internet, Dad was determined that the secret to an active old age was to keep his mind alert. He joined Mensa in his late 80’s and, at the ripe old age of 90, took a computer class. Some important person visited their class and when the tutor proudly said that he had students from 18 to 80, Dad could not resist shouting out “you mean 18 to 90”! He wouldn’t allow a comment like that to pass uncorrected! He was active on email, used the internet when necessary and even learned mail-merge in word for his Christmas card list. I couldn’t get him onto Facebook, though!
Of course, he was born into a very different world. Living on Telegraph hill as a small child, one of his early memories at the age of 3. was watching the zeppelin raids over London, specifically the one that dropped bombs on New Cross in September 1915; he remembered the anti-aircraft fire streaking up into the sky to no effect.
As a young man, Francis was an accomplished sportsman. He was the SE England quarter-mile champion (that’s 400 metres to the younger ones here) in his late teens when running for Herne Hill Harriers, but his great love was rugby – his recklessness in tackles at fly half meant that he frequently dislocated his shoulder – he was sure this was all that kept him from a Cambridge Blue! He was a keen cyclist and would think nothing of jumping on his bike and cycling down to Worthing, or some other south coast town, for the evening after school. Jackie can tell you about all the adventures that they had with her as pillion on his motorbike, whenever he came down during the holidays; he and Jackie were inseparable then as they have been now.
Having nearly been sent down for leading an escapade in which the sunken quad at his college, Cats, was flooded with water and populated by ducks taken from the fens, Francis achieved a degree in Maths and Modern Languages, – his mother was French, his father taught French and he grew up in a French speaking household; so French was no problem but he needed a second language and learned Spanish to degree level in a year! He prided himself on his French; he was often mistaken for a Belgian when in France – totally fluent, but not quite the right accent!
When he went into teaching in 1935, he was determined not to get locked into a reserved profession; there were two people in England at that time who knew another war was coming, Dad and Churchill! He wasn’t wrong! But then he was never “wrong”; probably his favourite saying was “I might be many things, but being wrong isn’t one of them!” So in accepting a job at a school in Berkenhead, he took it on the condition that he would run the Combined Cadet Force. This made him a reserve officer so he was called up before the war had actually started. His first responsibility in 1939 was to defend the Norfolk beaches from the obvious German invasion. Each night he would station his platoon, spread out along the flat expanse of beach, facing out to sea looking for the invading fleet. Of course, it never came and he had no idea of what he would have done with one soldier every 100 yards or so if it had! He didn’t see a German then; I don’t think he saw one all war! For a man determined to be in the war, he had a remarkably lucky one.
Half-way through the war, he went to the middle-east by ship – right round Africa. They had to cross to the West Atlantic to avoid German U-Boats; Lord Haw Haw came on the radio the evening before they left Liverpool to say that the U-Boats were waiting for them. He spoke about how their escort destroyers suddenly shot off from time to time, then hearing the thud of the depth-charges as they hunted the submarines. This left him in Jerusalem at the end of the war, responsible for all the military transportation for Palestine. Thus Francis met his first wife, Vida, a formidable woman by all accounts and the matron responsible for military hospitals in Palestine. She had returned to England by July 1946 when Francis was in the King David Hotel when it was blown up. He should have been in the meeting that was attacked, but was in his office at the other end of the building. Lucky again.
Francis was a great lover of dogs, specifically German Shepherds. He had his first, appropriately enough in Germany, in Hamburg in 1947 when it was largely to protect Vida. He trained Caesar so well that he used to send him from his 4th floor flat to collect his paper from the paper shop and he exercised him by running him beside his car as he went to work. In Farningham, all his dogs, every one called Caesar, were trained to self-exercise; he would put them in the field across the lane for them to run round the outside and then wait by the gap to be called back. More than once, a dog that he had forgotten would wait by the gap for hours, thankfully never days. It was while walking various Caesars that he would bump into Larry, a near neighbour, who, with Jan, has been a good friend and strong support ever since.
We were in Khartoum when I was about 2, where I have my first personal memory of Dad. He was posted suddenly to Port Said on the southern end of the Suez Canal. I remember him seeing us, that’s my mother, David and me, off from the railway station for us to go to Mombasa to catch a ship to Liverpool; a sign of the formidable strength of our mother that she took something like this in her stride – just herself with two boys under 5. Dad was already in Port Said when our ship came through and, much to the captain’s chagrin, “errors” were found in the paperwork that delayed us for a night. Surprise, surprise, a small motor launch arrived in the darkness with Dad to spend the evening with mum! Determined, cheeky and very lucky not to be run down in the dark in a near miss while crossing the harbour on his way back!
We came home from Hong Kong in 1957 to go to school and Dad’s next posting was to SHAPE in Paris. He lived in a caravan so we could tour. He also bought a large American ford car with bench seats so all four of us could travel side by side in front. He would keep us amused by singing his favourite song – “My friend Elizabeth”. I can remember the words to this day, but you wouldn’t want me to sing. One story that he told many times over the last few years – and he recited to MaryAnn and me only a week before he died – was how we were sitting early in the morning on a deserted beach at a camp site near Valencia, Spain in summer 1959 enjoying the sand and the isolation. This is the life he thought, we’ll come back here next year. “No, Dad”, I said. “No, what do you mean No?”. “No, Dad, we are going to Rome for the Olympics”; and go to Rome we did. A rare occasion when he was wrong!
Dad left the army in 1962 so that he would be home for my mother who, by then, was dying of cancer. We had moved to Farningham, where, having been nomadic for decades, he lived for 40 years. The winter of 62/63 was a dreadful one; the worst winter in the south east ever. But every day, Dad would drive to the Royal Marsden Hospital to visit Vida. Mum died on March 1st, we were away at school and Dad was very alone. But this brought a whole new chapter to his life – 40 years with Jo whom he met on the Farningham Parochial Church Council – of course, he was chairman. He was a school master for a further 10 years (deputy head, head of modern languages, careers master – never one to be idle!), proud one year to have sent 4 boys to Cambridge from a Technical College. He retired when the school changed to comprehensive His marriage to Jo brought a whole new family into his life who he loved, supported and encouraged as his own. He even thought that he would celebrate his 90th birthday with his “adopted” family – through Bridget we had him believe that David and I had forgotten. He was so convinced that when David popped up at the restaurant to ask him what he wanted to drink; Francis thought he was a waiter! One of the few times when we got the better of him! His last 10 years were very happy for him, sharing them with his beloved sister and taken to heart by the good people of Hove; God bless you all.
Argumentative, alert and cheeky to the end. Only a week before he died we were talking about Benedictine and the monks. He told us how he had visited their library at Fecamp and seen the shelves full of bottles of all counterfeit Benedictines about which they had sued. On asking where in France Fecamp is, his reply was typical: “Of course you wouldn’t know, you only went to Oxford!”.
That was Francis - brother, husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend. As his French assistante, Christiane, who he employed for a year 50 years ago wrote to us: “Vous pouvez etre fier de l'homme qui fut votre père” – You should be proud of the man who was your father. We are.
May he rest in peace.